Harnesses and straps are designed to keep your baby safely in place while they’re in use, and some are vital for providing protection in certain situations, such as a car crash.
They can be found on a range of baby products, including car seats, pushchairs, high chairs and baby carriers.
When strapping your child in, there are steps and checks you need to do to ensure your child is held safely. Read on to find out what to consider.
Ensure a snug harness fit
The harness straps should be tight enough so you’re just able to fit two fingers flat against their collar bone, and there should be no slackness.
If there’s too much space between the child and the harness, it leaves room for the shoulders to slip out and the child could be thrown too far forwards in a collision.
Remove bulky or puffy coats and snowsuits before you strap your child into their car seat. Clothing such as this can stop you getting a snug fit on the harness, meaning it may not protect your child sufficiently in a collision, as you can see in the main image above.
Instead, dress your baby or toddler in multiple layers, strap them into the seat and then have a blanket that you can lay over the top of them to keep them warm.
The same rules apply for clothing if you have a car seat with an impact shield, as opposed to a harness.
Check your harness and seatbelt positions
Check the shoulder pads on the harness are level with your child’s shoulders. Pads that are in line with their ears or sitting on their chest could be a sign the harness shoulder height setting is incorrect or the harness is too loose.
If you’re strapping your child into a high-backed booster seat using the vehicle three-point belt, make sure it’s not twisted.
The shoulder part of the seatbelt should sit on their shoulder and the lap part should go across their hips, not their tummy.
Watch out for harness clips or covers
Some companies and car seat manufacturers produce accessories that you can attach to the harness to stop your child slipping out of it or pressing the release button to undo it.
While these products may solve the issue of your child escaping from their car seat harness while you’re driving, they’re not a good idea.
Anything that covers the release button on a child car seat could mean your seat does not comply with R44 and R129 car seat regulations.
The regulations state that you should be able to release a child from their car seat harness or seatbelt with one action – pressing a button – so adding extra clips or covers means there are multiple actions needed.
This could slow down the rescue of your child and their removal from the vehicle in the event of a crash.
Don’t forget to strap up
Just because they’re sitting in the seat, doesn’t mean you should forget to use the harness to keep your child restrained in the pushchair.
A sudden jolt over a rock, having to pull the buggy back from the road, or your child making a dash from the buggy after a spotting a playground in the distance, could easily cause your child to fall head first out of your pushchair if you don’t use the harness.
Make sure straps and buckles are strong and sturdy
We test pushchairs to the latest EU and UK standard – EN1888:2018. This includes testing the strength of the harness and its buckles to see if they open under force, or if any stitching comes loose. The picture above is of a pushchair harness that broke during our testing.
Our tests frequently uncover issues with harnesses, so make sure you read our pushchair reviews to ensure you don’t pick a pushchair where the harness might break.
Find out more about our pushchair safety tests in our guide to how we test pushchairs.
Use the harness
All high chairs should come with a harness to help secure your child in place while they’re eating. It can be tempting to simply plonk your baby into the seat and not bother doing it up, but it’s vital.
The harness will stop your child leaning too far out of the chair on either side, or standing up – a sure-fire way to unbalance the high chair and cause it to topple and injure them.
Top tip: When choosing a high chair, opt for one with a dark-coloured harness. It’s one of the areas that, according to the cleaning checks in the Which? high chairs test, can be hard to clean due to the textured material used. Dark colours will help hide any Bolognese or tomato-based food stains.
Check the crotch post
While not strictly a harness, the crotch post on a high chair is an important feature that should be present – this is a requirement of the most recent update to the EU and UK standard for high chairs.
However, not all crotch posts are created equal. We’ve seen models with crotch posts that don’t fully separate the two leg holes.
This means a child could move one leg across and slide out of the bottom of the high chair if they’re not strapped into the harness. This is called ‘submarining’ and it’s a strangulation risk if the child’s head gets caught by the tray.
Wear your baby in the right place
Whether you’re strapping your baby to you with a carrier or wrapping them onto your front using a sling, you need to make sure the straps or material are pulled tight enough to hold them in a safe position for them and you.
This means they should be high enough on your body so you can kiss the top of their head.
When using a sling or carrier, always follow the T.I.C.K.S guidance.
- T: Tight
- I: In view at all times
- C: Close enough to kiss
- K: Keep their chin off their chest
- S: Supported back
For more guidance on how to carry your baby, read our guide on baby sling and carrier safety.
Look out for very long straps
If you notice long lengths of spare strap once you’ve tied your sling or fixed your carrier, make sure you roll them up and secure them out of the way of your baby.
If they can access the strap, there’s a risk – especially if you’re carrying your child on your back – that they could wrap it round themselves, which is a strangulation hazard.
Pick a baby carrier or sling that’s comfortable for you and your baby – head to our Best Buy baby carrier and sling reviews.